What to watch for against the Celtics

Brian Erni

Tonight, the Nets wrap up their three game homestand with their final tilt of the year against the Boston Celtics.
nets celtics

It’s been a very successful stint at the Barclays Center for Brooklyn. The Nets are in the midst of a 10 game home winning streak, and as a result, have moved into sole possession of fifth place in the East, just two back of Chicago for fourth and two a half back of the Raptors for the Atlantic. With both Toronto and Chicago pulling tough match ups tonight, Brooklyn has a golden opportunity to position themselves within striking distance of home court advantage. But, for whatever reason, the Celtics have given the Nets some problems this year. Their first win back on December 10 was an oasis in a brutal start to the season. But since, Boston has turned it up against Brooklyn. The return of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the TD Garden, even though it resulted in a win, was soured by a 39.3% effort from the field and an overall sloppy performance. Then, Boston took down the Nets earlier this month, which stands as one of only two losses in a 8-2 March.

Boston’s situation is very simple: they play passable defense (14th in defensive rating, 11th in opposing points per game), and their offense is a mess. Their 95.5 ppg are 27th in the Association, and their pace is a plodding 93.2 (though the Nets’ is 91.7, so we’re not in for a see-saw possession battle). Of course, Rajon Rondo’s return has helped a bit, but this is still a team that’s not going to light up the score sheet. A 101-96 win against Miami on Wednesday snapped a five game losing streak. In that contest, Boston held the LeBron-less champs to a 23.5% conversion rate from deep, while Avery Bradley scored a game-high 23 and Rondo dished out 15 assists en-route to a double-double that missed being a triple-double by a lone tally (10 rebounds, 9 points).

But Brooklyn cannot afford to squander this game. A road back-to-back kicks off next week, so they need to get this one against a team 23 games under the .500 mark. Deron Williams has been leading the way on offense, a sight Garnett called “beautiful” and the Nets have been suffocating in their defense of the basket. They’ve held opponents to under 100 points in 10 of their last 11 games, a trend that should continue tonight.

Key Match Up: Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston vs. Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley. This could get fun. The Nets’ back court of Williams and Livingston have been carrying this team, and their Boston counterparts are the most solid competent of their offense as well. How these pairings play against one another could determine how each coach handles their rotations, not to mention the overall arch of the game.

Player to Watch: Marcus Thornton. Thornton’s performance has been very up and down since joining the club, usually resulting in a “one good game, one bad game” trend. Thornton had a pretty good one on Wednesday night: 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, 2-of-4 from deep. If the offensive performance in their last two meetings with Boston is any indication, the Nets might need a spark from the bench, so Thornton needs to be ready when called upon.